No. 8 USC Men's Tennis Returns Home, Face No. 14 Oklahoma State
The No. 8 Trojans return to the fresh air at Marks Stadium this week as they set up for a battle against No. 14 Oklahoma State. USC (7-3) will take on the Cowboys starting not before 3 p.m. on Saturday (Feb. 20).
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USC had another indoor match unravel in Illinois as the Trojans took a 4-3 loss to No. 3 TCU in their final consolation match at ITA National Team Indoor Championship. USC had gripped a 3-1 lead before the Horned Frogs made their winning move to beat the Trojans. USC went to 7-3 overall with its third straight loss. The doubles point would come down to the wire after TCU snagged a win on court three and USC's Stefan Dostanic and Bradley Frye fired back with a 6-3 victory on court two. With eyes on the top spot, USC's top-ranked Daniel Cukierman and Riley Smith caught a late break and held to pocket the point for USC on their 7-5 win. TCU fired back first in singles. On court four, TCU's Tomas Jirousek dealt out the first loss of the season to freshman Lodewijk Weststrate in a 6-3, 6-3 decision that put a point on the board for the Horned Frogs. On court five, though, USC's Bradley Frye gave USC a boost back ahead with his 6-3, 7-6 (9) win over Tadeas Paroulek. Later, USC's #104 Stefan Dostanic put the Trojans in the driver's seat with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 victory on court three over TCU's #113 Sanders Jong, making it 3-1 USC. TCU would tuck back in, though. At the No. 2 spot. #47 Luc Fomba pulled out breakers in both sets to beat #19 Riley Smith 7-6 (6), 7-6 (6) and get TCU back in the match at 3-2. Juan Martin on court six leveled the match at 3-3 when he topped USC"s Jake Sands 5-1, 5-7, 6-3, putting the decider on court one. There, USC's #1 Daniel Cukierman was in a third-set battle with TCU's #21 Alastair Gray. Gray would dig in in the third and manage the clincher for the Horned Frogs with his 7-6 (3), 3-6, 7-5 win over Cukierman to net the 4-3 win for TCU..
STARTING ON TOP
USC entered the new year with authority, boasting a sweep of the first ITA national rankings as the No. 1 team with the No. 1 singles player and No. 1 doubles pair. As the Trojans prepared to start up their 2021 campaign, USC head coach Brett Masi had his team at the top, while senior Daniel Cukierman stood tall as the nation's No. 1 singles player while also pairing up with returning senior Riley Smith for the No. 1 doubles rank. When 2020 competition was suspended back in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, USC was coming off a big victory at the ITA National Team Indoor Championships. The Trojans were No. 1 in the nation, and Cukierman was the No. 1 singles player.
Senior Daniel Cukierman picked up the first weekly prize of the year from the Pac-12 in securing his third career selection as Pac-12 Player of the Week on Feb. 4. Cukierman was perfect in singles and doubles as the Trojans tallied two dual-match wins to improve to 3-0 on the year. Most notably, top-ranked Cukierman came through with a three-set comeback win in singles to beat UCLA's #10 Keegan Smith in the ITA Kickoff Weekend championship match, clinching victory for the Trojans to punch up USC's 13th straight title at the event and ensuring USC would make a 13th straight trip to ITA National Team Indoor Championship. USC won the national title at that event last year. Also against the Bruins, Cukierman paired with fellow senior Riley Smith — together ranked as the No. 1 doubles team in the nation — for a win on court one before coming through with the singles clincher later. Later in the week, USC took on LMU and served up a sweep of the Lions thanks in part to wins from Cukierman in doubles and singles again. Cukierman has now won 11 consecutive singles matches dating back to last season.
BY THE NUMBERS
USC's winningest player to date is newcomer Lodewijk Weststrate, who has churned out 11 singles wins in his freshman campaign as a Trojan so far. Next in line with seven singles wins each are sophomore Stefan Dostanic and senior Riley Smith. In doubles, USC has utilized 12 different pairs during dual-match play so far, with Daniel Cukierman and Riley Smith holding the edge at a 5-1 mark on the year, while Stefan Dostanic and Bradley Frye boast a 4-0 mark to date.
The coronavirus pandemic put a stop to activities around the world, including all NCAA competition. When the 2020 season was suspended, the USC men's tennis team was standing tall as the top-ranked team in the nation for the fifth consecutive week — the Trojans' longest run at No. 1 since 2012. At 13-1 overall and recently crowned as the ITA National Indoor Champions, USC was looking like a solid frontrunner for the 2020 NCAA Championship under the direction of first-year head coach Brett Masi. Masi had taken over the reins of the Trojan tennis program in August 2019, leading a talented USC roster that featured a strong blend of veterans and youth. Senior All-Americans Brandon Holt and Riley Smith were joined by former team manager Rae Lan to round out USC's 2020 senior class. The savvy Daniel Cukierman stood tall as USC's lone junior on the roster, and he'd work his way to rank No. 1 in the nation in singles by the close of competition. USC's sophomore class featured Mor Bulis, Bradley Frye and Jake Sands, who were all coming off of solid first seasons as Trojans. Bulis shined particularly bright in the fall and cracked the top-10 singles rankings at No. 9 in the land at the same time that his fellow Israeli teammate Cukierman stepped to No. 1. USC's two newcomers were feisty freshmen Stefan Dostanic and Ryder Jackson. Both would show their mettle in the fall, and both became mainstays in the dual-match lineup that saw the Trojans take over the nation.